Confidence Level Scale:
1: Gun to the head, forced to choose
2: Minimum confidence
3-4: A small level of confidence
5-6: Significantly clearer path to victory for one person.
7 – Strong confidence.
8-9: Extremely confident.
10 – Bulletproof confidence, barring freak occurrence
Roosevelt Roberts (7-0) vs. Thomas Gifford (17-7)
The first bout of the main card will feature Thomas Gifford making his UFC debut against the undefeated Roosevelt Roberts. If Gifford’s debut is going to be a successful one, he will have his work cut out for him. He will need to continuously emphasize the long jab, which will be made by possible by Gifford being one of the few lightweights with a reach advantage over the rangy Roberts. But the work Gifford will be required to put in will all be for naught if Roosevelt is able to use his vastly superior wrestling to take the fight to the ground. But paradoxically, Gifford’s largest area of concern in this bout is also his biggest path to victory: the grappling department. Because while Roosevelt Roberts is the far bigger threat in the grappling department, Thomas Gifford has a mean guillotine that when dry in the first round, could definitely rear its and Roosevelt’s head in an upset victory.
Aside from that, Gifford could also manage to exceed my expectations and keep the fight standing, at which point the former boxer could potentially eek out a decision victory. However, that’s not what I’m expecting to take place. I’m expecting Roosevelt Roberts to extend his undefeated record to 8-0 by holding his own on the feet with his strong counterstriking, and whenever he feels like it, taking it to the mat, perhaps with a body lock takedown. And while Gifford may have a mean guillotine, Roberts is the better overall submission grappler as well. Look for Roberts to be able to pass guard rather easily and, at some point, get the finish if the fight does indeed go to grappling realm.
Prediction: Roosevelt Roberts
Confidence Level: 8/10
John Lineker (31-8) vs. Cory Sandhagen (10-1)
Will Cory Sandhagen be able to remain unbeaten in the UFC when he faces by far his toughest test to date in John Lineker? This is a massive step up in competition for Sandhagen, who’s last outing was against the Wikipedia page-less Mario Bautista. Sandhagen has impressed in his three outings, though, including earning Fight of the Night honors in his classic encounter against Iuri Alcantara last August. Heading into his fight with John Lineker, an important statistic to note is that Sandhagen has never been knocked out. With John “The Hookmaster” Lineker swinging for the fences, that fact about Sandhagen could lend a degree of confidence for those who are picking the Coloradan. But what should give them even more confidence is the pronounced speed advantage that Sandhagen have over Lineker, as well as posting a higher volume of striking output than Lineker, who usually attacks in flurries. Additionally, Sandhagen’s effective jab and stance switching could certainly pose problems for the flat-footed Linker who often attacks in a straight line.
Indeed, if you’re picking Sandhagen, you certainly have reasons to be confident, but my confidence is going the other way. Sandhagen has paths to victory, as noted, but I just see Lineker bulldozing that path with a destruction that only the “Hands of Stone” can guide. John Lineker has yet to lose a striking battle in the UFC, nor has he been finished by strikes, and he is much, much more experienced without even sacrificing age. Here’s a fun fact: John Lineker has 28 more fights than Cory Sandhagen and is only one year older! Even if it’s only in one flurry per round, I believe Lineker will continually walk Sandhagen down, land the biggest blows in each round, overwhelm Sandhagen, and earn the victory, finish or not.
Prediction: John Lineker
Confidence Level: 6/10
Glover Teixeira (28-7) vs. Ion Cutelaba (14-3, 1 NC)
Ion Cutelaba will have a golden opportunity to become a ranked light heavyweight when he takes on the #11-ranked and a much more experienced Glover Teixeira. The question is whether “experienced” is the most apt word or if “over-the-hill” would be a more fitting adjective. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
I’m convinced that a 2014 or 2015 Glover Teixeira vs. Ion Cutelaba has a much different line than the one posted as of this writing, which is virtually a pick-em, after Cutelaba had been favored for the majority of the week. Glover is not the same fighter as he was in his prime, but he still has plenty left to give and is a very difficult matchup for Cutelaba.
Cutelaba is a fighter who harmonizes adrenaline with bad intentions and sometimes what gets lost in that equation is precise calculations. Cutelaba is known to overcommit on his strikes, leaving himself vulnerable for takedowns, and also for going full steam in the early-goings of a fight until he is running on empty.
Cutelaba’s ground game was very impressive against another dangerous grappler in Gadzhimurad Antigulov in his last fight. Though Antigulov was able to take him down, Cutelaba’s ability to return to his feet was very impressive and after making it back up, his takedown defense was able to hold up. This was no accident. Because while Cutelaba may often fight like a wildman with no formal discipline, in actuality, the man is a former national judo champion.
In spite of that judo background, I do expect Glover to be able to time takedowns and to implement his black belt in jiu-jitsu. There definitely could be some scares for Glover, though, as he is certainly very hittable and Cutelaba packs a hell of a wallop. But in all of his 35 fights, Glover has only been knocked out three times: once came in his professional MMA debut, once came to the freak of nature known as Anthony Johnson, and the third came to a man whom many believe to this day is one of the top three light heavyweights in the world, Alexander Gustafsson, who was fighting in peak form at the time of that bout. So I believe that Glover will be able to survive the scares, much like he did against Karl Roberson, and be able to earn a submission or grappling-heavy victory. Heck, he may even earn a surprise counter-KO like the Glover of old.
Prediction: Glover Teixeira
Confidence Level: 4/10
Alex Oliveira (19-6-1) vs. Mike Perry (12-4)
Many fans have been guilty of overestimating Mike Perry in the past, and in my estimation, though not on the same scale, they continue to do so. Mike Perry’s path to victory is one-strike KO power, but he’s not an elite KO artist the likes of Francis Ngannou, Anthony Johnson, Derrick Lewis, etc. Granted, most elite one-strike KO artists, such as the names listed above, are in the higher weight classes, but that does not change the fact that if you only have one path to victory, you should be elite at whatever that path is. I’d rate Perry’s KO artistry at a solid B. But going against a customer as tough as “Cowboy” Oliveira, I think that grade would need to be higher for there to be justified confidence in Perry.
Having said that, a B-level KO artist still has a very viable path to victory, which is always the narrative around Mike Perry. For that reason, he always has an above average “puncher’s chance” because his KO punching is indeed clearly above average. But I expect Oliveira to use his experience and have a game plan instead of fighting fire with fire against the heavy-handed Perry. I expect Oliveira’s movement to cause problems for the flat-footed Perry, and for him to also land more volume against the fan favorite. Oliveira will come into the fight with a major speed advantage, but if he is not careful, his hittable ways will come back to haunt him against Mike Perry, a headhunter who is also capable of lethal explosions.
But given that Oliveira has more weapons, including a better kicking game, higher output, and more experience, he should be able to get the job done and hand Perry his fourth loss in five fights. The biggest concern for those putting money on him is if he throws technique and game planning out the window and gets into a brawl with Perry, which is a legitimate possibility. That’s not to say that Oliveira could not win a brawl against Perry, but it is this scenario where the current odds would become accurate.
Prediction: Alex Oliveira
Confidence Level: 5/10
Greg Hardy (3-1) vs. Dmitrii Smoliakov (9-2)
When a 3-1 MMA fighter manages to be a -345 favorite coming into a fight, that should always lead the observer to consider why that is. In this case, it’s because the one loss from the fighter was due to a disqualification and that the fighter is, in actuality, a superior athlete who once competed in the most popular sport in the country at the highest possible level. And it is this athleticism combined with his strength that could make Hardy a very difficult man to take to the canvas, something we saw flashes of in Hardy’s UFC debut against Allen Crowder.
Hardy’s approach to this fight will be no secret. He will look to run through Smoliakov in a street-fight-style battle. And if Smoliakov leaves his hands down low which he is accustomed to doing, and if he gets off to a slow start with low-impact strikes, Greg Hardy will have every opportunity to mow him down in the first round. Smoliakov is a Master of Sport in freestyle wrestling, so even though we may not have seen any trace of this in the UFC thus far, this could definitely be a fight that provides us a much larger sample size of Greg Hardy’s takedown defense.
Prediction: Greg Hardy
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (26-6) vs. Jack Hermansson (19-4)
Much like Cory Sandhagen, Jack Hermansson will be making a huge leap up in competition when he takes on Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in the evening’s headliner. Jacare Souza has fought nothing but the best of the best since entering the UFC, with his only three UFC losses coming to current champion Robert Whittaker, Yoel Romero, and Kelvin Gastelum, with the latter two being controversial split decisions. With all due respect to Jack Hermansson, I see nothing stylistically that leads me to believe he will be joining this exclusive list.
Jack Hermansson’s hunger is transparent, and his urgency to step in on short notice to face an animal like Jacare reflects that. But Jacare Souza is also hungry. He’s a man who has been waiting for a title shot for years and has constantly been within reach of it. Now you’re telling him that he’s one fight away from being promised one? If anything, I believe Souza to be the hungrier fighter, thus negating one of Hermansson’s biggest intangibles coming into this contest.
If this fight stays on the feet, I do not expect Hermansson to be able to match Jacare’s power. If this fight goes to the mat, which is what Jacare will most likely look to do, he will look to hand Jack Hermansson his third submission loss while picking up a 15th submission victory for himself. I expect this fight to look similar to the Thales Leites vs. Jack Hermansson bout, sans the heroic comeback from Hermansson. Jacare Souza is excellent at closing the distance, and I expect him to do just that, and thus nullify Hermansson’s length. And while I’m confident Jacare could stand with Hermansson for as long as necessary, I expect the wise veteran to take the fight to the mat, where the battle will be one-sided and Hermansson will find himself imprisoned by the gator’s entrapment.
Prediction: Jacare Souza
Confidence Level: 9/10
Undercard Picks (Confidence level in parenthesis)
Court McGee over Dhiego Lima (6)
Angela Hill over Jodie Esquibel (7)
Jim Miller over Jason Gonzalez (5)
Gilbert Burns over Mike Davis (7)
Carla Esparza over Virna Jandiroba (6)
Augusto Sakai over Andrei Arlovski (1)
Takashi Sato over Ben Saunders (3)
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